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Dan Tuohy has covered politics in the Granite State since 1993 and has reported from the Statehouse. A New Hampshire native, Tuohy is a past president of the New Hampshire Press Association.
December 10. 2011 11:17PM

John DiStaso's Granite Status: Gingrich pledges to stay positive after 'frank exchange' with rival Romney


 

TUESDAY DEC. 13, UPDATE: POSITIVE PLEDGE. Newt Gingrich, faced with continued attacks from rival GOP Mitt Romney, today pledged to run a positive, issues-oriented campaign.

Gingrich, in an e-mail to supporters and staff, “reserved the right to respond when my record has been distorted,” however.

He said that is what he did on Monday when he and Romney engaged in what Gingrich called “a frank exchange.”

Gingrich noted that Romney said on Monday that he will not say “outrageous things that can be used to hang (a GOP opponent) down the road.”

“I agree wholeheartedly with this statement,” wrote Gingrich.

“We will run a positive campaign focused on our country's future. We will not be running any negative advertising. With Ronald Reagan's eleventh commandment in mind, we will ask our supporters not to contribute to any so-called SuperPAC that runs negative ads against any other Republican contender and we will discourage ad hominem attack on our fellow Republicans.

“Therefore, I am instructing all members of my campaign staff and respectfully urge anyone acting as a surrogate for our campaign to avoid initiating attacks on other Republican candidates,” Gingrich wrote. “It is my hope that my Republican opponents will join me in this commitment.”

Gingrich's email was issued shortly after the Romney campaign launched another attack on him for his role as a paid adviser _ Gingrich denies he was a lobbyist _ for Freddie Mac for nearly a decade.

The lengthy email says in short that Gingrich was paid between $1.6 million and $1.8 million by Freddie Mac in consulting fees with the mortgage company and his explanations “appear to have changed” about how he earned the money.

The Romney email cited a Bloomberg News report from last month in which former Freddie Mac officials “familiar with the consulting work Gingrich was hired to perform for the company in 2006” said he was “asked to build bridges to Capitol Hill Republicans and develop an argument on behalf of the company's public-private structure that would resonate with conservatives seeking to dismantle it.”

The Romney email carried a “letterhead” showing Gingrich with Democratic former House speaker Nancy Pelosi next to the words “Unreliable Leader.”

In New Hampshire on Monday, Romney said his campaign “may” run negative advertising. A SuperPAC supporting Romney, but not connected to his campaign, has been running negative ads in Iowa about Gingrich.

In New Hampshire on Monday, Romney called on Gingrich to give back the money he earned from Freddie Mac.

Gingrich shot back, “If Governor Romney would give back all the money he's earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees over the years at Bain, then I would be glad to listen to him. “But I bet you $10, not $10,000, that he won't take the offer.”

Today, the Des Moines Register of Iowa reported, citing the Iowa Republican, that Gingrich’s new political director in that state, a day before being hired, told a focus group, “A lot of the evangelicals believe God would give us four more years of Obama just for the opportunity to expose the cult of Mormon. There’s a thousand pastors ready to do that.”

The comment was reportedly made last Wednesday and Bergman was reportedly hired by the Gingrich campaign last Thursday.

Also this week, Gingrich picked up the backing of former state Commissioner of Employment Security Richard Brothers, who had been a member of Jon Huntsman's steering committee and was chair of the Veterans for Huntsman coalition and an alternate delegate to the 2012 Republican National Convention.

Also backing Gingrich was four-term state Rep. Steve Stepanek of Milford, who chairs the Hosue Ways and Means Committee and is treasurer of both the House Republican Victory PAC and House speaker Bill O'Brien's PAC.

(The full Dec. 11 special Sunday edition of the Granite Status follows.)

(Editor's Note: This is a special Sunday edition of the Granite Status political column.)

MARLIN'S TAKE. The past week saw a major uptick in the intensity of the battle for the Republican presidential nomination, with former Gov. John H. Sununu, a leading Mitt Romney supporter, leading a series of attacks against his candidate's new top competitor: former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Sununu told the Granite Status that 21 years ago, then-House Minority Whip Gingrich reneged after telling then-President George H.W. Bush (41) that he approved of the 1990 budget agreement with Democrats that included tax increases. Sununu was Bush's chief of staff at the time.

Separately, former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson, who was then the Senate minority whip, concurred in an interview with the Boston Globe with what Sununu had told us.

A Gingrich spokesman denied Sununu's contention and said Gingrich never agreed to the deal.

A senior Gingrich aide, in a separate interview with the Granite Status, did not specifically say whether Gingrich had at any point agreed to the deal. But the aide said things were “represented” to Gingrich by Sununu and other Republicans about the deal, which, “when checked, turned out not to be accurate. There was a net tax increase.”

As we reported last Thursday, many political observers have long believed that this Bush about-face on his 1988 “Read my lips, no new taxes” pledge cost him a second term.

A key player in the middle of the action at the time was former 10-year White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater, who recalled the now-infamous episode in GOP lore in his 2000 book, “Call the Briefing!”

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NEWT'S OPPOSITION. Fitzwater does not specifically say whether Gingrich had at any point agreed to the deal, but he did write that Gingrich had previously “recommended a different course of action: Abandon the budget negotiations, keep the tax pledge, insist that Congress cut spending and make a political fight out of it.

“It's clear now that we should have followed his advice,” Fitzwater wrote.

Fitzwater wrote that the Democrats had “outfoxed” the Republicans by getting them to agree to a tax increase along with spending cuts in order to cut the deficit and end the recession.

“As it turned out,” wrote Fitzwater, “one of the few people who understood this trap was Congressman Newt Gingrich.”

Sununu charged in the interview that Gingrich told him the day before the deal was announced that he would agree to it. But, Sununu said, the following day, as the deal was to be announced in the Rose Garden, Gingrich “decided he was going to oppose it,” without explanation.

The Gingrich aide said, “When all the rest of them trooped into the Rose Garden, Gingrich walked out the front door.”

Fitzwater recalled that when the congressional leadership gathered minutes earlier in the Cabinet Room, “the President asked if everyone in the room was going to support the agreement.

“There were no voices of dissent,” Fitzwater wrote. “But when the group got up to leave for the Rose Garden, Congressman Gingrich went (in) another direction and did not stay for the ceremony.”

Sununu said Gingrich's opposition severely weakened the GOP hand and nearly crashed the deal altogether, especially when he led a Republican charge against it on the House floor.

Fitzwater wrote that in the days leading up to announcement of the deal, the White House staff had “deluded ourselves into thinking that calling a tax increase by another name, revenue enhancement, would fool the world.”

The fact was, he wrote, “We agreed to raise taxes. Our political world exploded. The American people felt he President had lied about his 1988 Republican convention pledge, ‘Read my lips, no new taxes.”

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“TAX REVENUE INCREASES.” Fitzwater recalled being called into the negotiating room the day before the deal was announced and Bush handing him a statement. He was ordered to announce “that the negotiators had reached an agreement to cut spending to reduce the deficit, and the administration agreed that ‘tax revenue increases' would be necessary.”

Fitzwater wrote, “I knew the game was over. The Democrats had taken us to the cleaners.”'

He wrote that he caught Sununu's attention and spoke with the chief of staff briefly outside the negotiating room.

Fitzwater wrote:

“‘What do you want?' he (Sununu) demanded.

“‘Sir,' I said. ‘This says we support raising taxes. This breaks the pledge.

“‘No it doesn't,' he said curtly. ‘It says increased revenues.'

“‘Nobody will be fooled,' I said.

“‘It says revenue increase,'” he repeated as he turned to go back into the room. ‘Issue it.'”

Fitzwater wrote that the administration “tried to deny the undeniable and hoped that no one would notice that the pledge was broken.”

Suffice to say: History showed that, indeed, the administration got it wrong. It was noticed.

John DiStaso is senior political reporter of the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. He has been covering presidential and state politics in New Hampshire since 1980, and his Granite Status column has been featured in the Thursday editions of the Union Leader since 1982. It is updated regularly throughout each week on UnionLeader.com.


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